Friends and family members of Darryl Cheeks will gather at 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 9, at First Presbyterian Church, 1427 Chicago Ave., for a celebration of his life. A third-generation Evanstonian who was deeply rooted in Evanston, Darryl enjoyed success in his professional life while maintaining a lifelong commitment to volunteerism and fellowship.

Obituary Darryl Cheeks
Darryl Cheeks Credit: Submitted

Faith, family, and community were sources of strength and inspiration for Darryl during his long, courageous battle with a rare autoimmune condition. 

Darryl was born April 7, 1968, to Carl and Beaulah Cheeks. Growing up in Evanston, he excelled in school and sports. A friend to all, Darryl cherished his relationships with a wide circle of friends, many of whom have remained close since childhood. One of the things said most often by his recent friends is that they felt like they’d known him forever.

His early years as a wrestler at Evanston Township High School and later as a collegiate wrestler at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign also likely contributed to the mental and physical discipline that helped him face the challenges of living with the severe medical condition scleromyxedema, said his wife, Rebecca.

The University of Illinois offered Darryl a choice between a full academic or a full athletic scholarship. He accepted the academic scholarship. His career began after he earned a bachelor’s degree in accountancy and earned his license as a a Certified Public Accountant via the state Board of Accountancy. He worked for Fortune 500 companies including Arthur Andersen, Abbott Laboratories and Oracle Corp.

After serving as Chief Financial Officer at Hoyt/Pentacom, he established Chicagoland Barbecue and Chicagoland Foods Military Consortium (The Chicagoland Companies) – named one of the top 21 minority-owned businesses in the U.S. He went on to open a chain of casual restaurants called Barbecue Blues. In 2001, he formed the global financial firm Black Rhino Financial Group, providing financial services to small businesses.

Darryl’s public service work included many years as a director on various boards. At the time of his death, he was serving on the Executive Committee of the University of Illinois Deans’ Business Council, the Executive Board for the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois and the ETHS Foundation Board.

His spiritual life encompassed more than 30 years as an ordained minister, serving at Monroe Street Church of Christ on the West Side of Chicago, Waukegan Church of Christ, and Soul Food Prison Ministry, which he founded to serve incarcerated men and women.

Thank-you luncheon
Deputy Police Chief Melissa Sacluti (right) and Sgt. Jeff Faison are welcomed by Darryl and Rebecca Cheeks. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

When Darryl’s health prevented him from being the minister of a congregation, he and Rebecca co-founded the nonprofit organization Dayenu Ministries in 2019, serving hospitalized children, abused women and their children, homeless, veterans, first responders, older adults and incarcerated people.

In November 2021, Dayenu Ministries hosted an appreciation luncheon at the Evanston Ecology Center for firefighters, police officers, nurses and other health-care workers.

In his remarks at the luncheon, Darryl said, “To our firefighters, our EMTs. To our police, we cannot make it without you. We need to tell you ‘Thank you’ for what you do.”

Darryl expressed gratitude for the courage and strength of dedicated nurses “who deal with us in our deepest periods of life – finding ways to encourage us at 4 a.m.”

Thank-you luncheon
Darryl and Rebecca Cheeks (center) surrounded by nurses who cared for him at Rush University Medical Center. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

After his death on Jan. 8, Rebecca Cheeks wrote: “Here, in Darryl’s own words, is what he said about forming Dayenu Ministries: ‘Finally, I have found a way to meaningfully serve others, in spite of my new normal of physical limitations. … I now feel one with my God, more united with my wife, building a better legacy for my children and useful to my community.’

Darryl loved nature, cooking, music, history, old movies and his trusty New Balance gym shoes (which his mother lovingly replaced for him every couple of years). He loved establishing family traditions and making memories. Each Christmas he’d quiz the children on family trivia, rewarding them with little prizes. But the true prize, of course, was seeing the joy it brought to Darryl. If you have a moment, listen to Mavis Staples’ song, Sit Down Servant. For the past year or so, Darryl would listen to that song over and over. The lyrics take on a new poignancy now – although that poignancy was likely there all along for Darryl.

Darryl is survived by his wife Rebecca; children Gabriel, Logan, Sebastian and Olivia; parents Beaulah Cheeks, Carl Cheeks, Shirley Cheeks; sister Shalonda Magness; in-laws Bob and Lois Shuford; Aunts Vivian and Mary; Uncle James and many very beloved cousins. Darryl’s family is committed to carrying on his legacy by living their lives to the fullest and embodying the values of loving and serving God and those around them.

In January, a private service and burial was held with the immediate family. This Saturday is a celebration of his life.

Heidi Randhava

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.

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